Collage of sheet music, a film strip and books

Faculty and Staff Recommend Books, Film, and Music for Our Holiday Break!

  1. Pablo Avila (CTL)

Breathe: A Letter to My Sons by Imani Perry (2019) explores the complexity and nuances of living, experiencing, being, and growing as a Black person in America. It gives perspective to one’s inner thoughts, fears, and moments of joy in the context of historical events like the death of Troy Davis and Emmet Till. In Perry’s narrative, she talks to her sons with care, with fear, with anger, and with a warm heart. One powerful quote:

And still the toxins constantly threaten to seep under your skin and explode your insides outward, and like all Black people you must constantly drink the antidote. Every day, drink in the stories and the knowledge that teach you to refuse the pernicious myth that you are inferior. And not just of and about your own. Of all who have been desecrated and ground into nothingness. Refuse the lie. And when the antidote fails, hole yourself in a state of retreat, a cocoon of safety in which you can weep and rest (P 33).

  1. Cheri Carr (Philosophy/Humanities)

I just finished reading Amia Srinivasan’s The Right to Sex and it’s wonderful for a couple of reasons. It’s very clear, deeply insightful, does not shy away from critiquing popular feminist rallying points in the name of deeper feminist principles (here’s looking at you, #MeToo), and goes a long way toward recuperating discussion of the so-called “Sex Wars” of the 1980s in terms of how capitalist white supremacist patriarchy forms our desires in ways that are distressingly limiting when it comes to possibilities of real pleasure.

  1. Niki Jones (CTL)

I just began reading The Casebook of Inspector Blackstone by Sally Spencer (a pen name for Alan Rustage). I love historical fiction and detective novels, particularly when the author has researched the time period’s culture and cultural events. It adds color to the history I already know. The Casebook of Inspector Blackstone takes the reader from working class London to the neighborhoods of Jewish and Russian immigrants, from the opulent homes of the peer class to the countryside of Russia where the Russian aristocracy live opulent lives alongside the newly emancipated peasants, who continue to be oppressed and live in crippling poverty. These books explore life in England at the end of the 19th century. The geo-political map in Europe was changing along with it, its social structures deeply rooted in an agrarian culture. While England, France and Spain were still the dominant powers, Austria, Germany, and Russia were scrambling for land and power on the chessboard that is Europe. Culturally speaking, the so-called “lower classes” were beginning to doubt that a small group of people should have power by virtue of their birth, and that poverty and crime are just “their lot in life.” The Casebook of Inspector Blackstone explores many of these issues in the guise of a detective mystery.

  1. William Kelly (Marketing and Communications)

The Card Counter, Paul Schrader’s new film, is an anomaly in these times. It bears all the marks of the best of cinema—not rushed, not special EFXected. It resists the impulses of the dominant strain of culinary (e.g., easily digested) cinema by challenging the viewer with difficult subject matter and sophisticated form. Delving deep into unconscionable acts, guilt, justice, and grief, The Card Counter suggests how these elements obstruct our progress as individuals, as a nation, as a species. And yet, it holds out the possibility of forgiveness and atonement. That’s quite an ambitious agenda for a film with only four main characters, the principal being a taciturn ex-con, beautifully embodied by Oscar Isaac, acutely focused on card playing in order to live in the moment and not be overwhelmed by a past evinced by his cry, “Nothing can justify what we did.” Not surprisingly for Schrader, echoes of Robert Bresson resound in journal entries which give insight into his reserved protagonist, and an ending in which spirit vanquishes physical boundaries. The Card Counter is cinema at its best:  exacting, enlightening, encouraging.

  1. Fern Luskin (Art History/Humanities)

A lovely woman whom I met in an airport during a blizzard, and who has since become my friend, recently developed breast cancer and had a double mastectomy.  She is stressed, so I encouraged her to listen to soothing music.  I just found Rampal’s performance of Faure’s elegantly lyrical “Berceuse” online to send her (available at or ). And the other day I discovered a truly exquisite version of Delibes’ “Duo des fleurs” (“Flower Duet”) from Lakmé; it has been happily floating through my head ever since. You can find this music at, or

I hope you find as much joy in this music as I have.

  1. Ian McDermott (Library)

Peel by KMRU (2020, Editions Mego). Kenyan sound artist Joseph Kamaru, who records as KMRU, makes ambient albums that have helped insulate me from this frenetic, ever shifting fall semester. His album Peelcomprises field recording made in Nairobi, an island in Uganda, and Montreal. KMRU digitally renders the recordings unidentifiable by slowing them down and collaging them into beautiful soundscapes. Peel rewards close listening or it can provide a quiet background. I listen to it while I go on walks, while I work, and when I’m falling asleep. It has given so much more than I asked for.

  1. Steve Ovadia (Library)

I’ve been listening to PJ Harvey’s The Peel Sessions 1991–2004 obsessively. Harvey is a bit of a musical chameleon, with a different vibe to each album, the only constant being her haunting voice and powerful songwriting. But these live performances, recorded in five sessions over thirteen years for BBC’s Radio 1 and DJ John Peel, capture her in her rawest form.

My favorite moment from the collection is her take on the blues classic, “Wang Dang Doodle,” first, and iconically, recorded by Howlin’ Wolf. Harvey’s version taps into the emotion of the blues without sounding bluesy. This isn’t the Rolling Stones copping licks from American 45s, but rather a British artist unleashing her idiosyncratic—and recognizable—take on the blues.

This collection is Harvey at her purest, showcasing her songs, voice, and musicianship. It’s tough to stop listening to it. Even if you’ve never listened to Harvey before.

  1. Kasey Powers (Academic Affairs)

I just finished a re-read of Outlander #8 (Written in My Own Heart’s Blood) in anticipation of book #9 Go Tell the Bees that I Am Gone showing up on my Kindle November 23. What I like about this book is the back and forth between 1980s Scotland and 1770s America. There’s a whole new time travelers mystery plot being set up and I’m ready for it. The series as a whole is fun and it has the romance, and the science fiction, and the history—very often I find myself going down a rabbit hole to find out what really happened at a given historical event.

Family Recommendation:

We’ve been watching Amphibia on Disney + and it’s really delightful. My kids started watching and it was on in my background and then one day I was invested in the adventures of Anne, Hoppidiah Planter, Sprig, and Polly. Anne and her two friends found a magic box and were transported to a world of frogs and bugs, Amphibia. Now I’m watching to find out: Is Anne ever going to find her human friends and make it back to her world?

  1. Phyllis Van Slyck (English)

I am reading The Code Breaker: Jennifer Doudna, Gene Editing, and the Future of the Human Race by Walter IsaacsonIt’s incredibly interesting and relevant because Doudna and her colleague, who won the Nobel prize together, are behind the invention of CRISPER. This is the little tool everyone is talking about because it allows a scientist to edit our DNA. Obviously, there are huge implications; for example, we might be able to remove a gene and thereby reduce susceptibility to the corona virus. However, this is highly contested ethical territory: a Chinese scientist is in jail for having removed a gene from twins in embryo and thus making it impossible for them to contract AIDS. The book discusses all these issues and gives a really clear history of gene research leading up to CRISPER. (I’m reading The Code Breaker because I have done research and teaching on eugenics and designer babies, and hope to use this in a learning community in Spring with my English 102 and a biology course, SCB201.)